In an advanced Latin course in the Spring of 2016, Valparaiso University undergraduates read and studied Cicero’s Pro Caelio. For a culminating project, each student chose one section of the speech to investigate and analyze in depth. They were tasked with presenting their passages in a modern medium, making Cicero’s oratorical skill accessible to a broader audience. Some of the results of their work—a series of lively and reflective podcasts—are presented here. Each podcast consists of a short introduction, a reading of the selected passage both in the original Latin and in the student’s own translation, and a fuller discussion of the contents of the passage.
Cicero’s Pro Caelio
Pro Caelio is one of Cicero’s most famous speeches, and for good reason. It contains some of the most memorable characterizations in ancient literature, offers a window into the strange and turbulent world of Rome in the 50s BCE, and is, of course, rhetorically brilliant.
The legal situation is this: The young Marcus Caelius Rufus is in serious trouble; he is on trial under capital charges, accused of a whole slew of crimes, including murder and attempted poisoning. Luckily for him, though, he has a friend and defender in the person of Cicero.
Cicero’s speech succeeds brilliantly in defending Caelius, and we know that he was acquitted. As these podcasts make clear, though, Cicero’s strategy had little to do with countering the actual substance of the charges; most of the speech (or at least most that makes it memorable) focuses on Clodia, a Roman widow who was (or who became) notorious for her loose living. This Clodia had apparently been Caelius’ lover at some point, and was a witness for the prosecution in this trial. But in Cicero’s deft handling, she is presented as much more than a witness: she is the depraved and malicious schemer who has invented the charges and coerced the prosecutors and witnesses, all to get revenge on an innocent young man who dared to spurn her.
As the podcasts that follow show, Cicero is an expert at not only rhetoric but also at entertainment, at dazzling (and perhaps misleading) his audience with his flair for the dramatic.
Submissions from 2016
On the Liberties of Roman Youths (Pro Caelio 48), Caitlyn Alario
Setting the Stage (Pro Caelio 1), Felicia Escandon
Boys Will Be Boys (Pro Caelio 28), Abigail Hansen
A Tale of Two Clodias (Pro Caelio 34), Emily Lueder
A Judgmental Ancestor (Pro Caelio 33), Kevin McCann